14 Chicken Coop Bedding Materials – Which one is the best?

I have been keeping and breeding chickens for more than 20 years, and in that time I have tried just about every different type of bedding material recommended for use in a chicken coop.

In this article, I discuss all 14 different bedding materials I have tried and I share with you my experiences as to which ones were good and which were not so good.

I have rated all the beddings out of 5, which I hope will allow you to compare all the different beddings and decide which one suits your personal needs.

One important point to note here is I am talking about bedding material that sits on the bottom of the coop rather than the best nestbox bedding material.

Some of these bedding materials would work equally well in the nest box, but others, like sand, would be of no use in a nest box.

What makes a good chicken coop bedding material?

Whatever we spread across the bottom of our chicken coops, it needs to meet at least the minimum requirements for bedding material. In my opinion, a coop bedding material must:

  • Be absorbent
  • Be safe for the chickens
  • Should not be overly compact
  • Should not harbor bacteria

Each of the materials on my list hit all 4 of the points above, however, that is not necessarily enough for me to consider it a good choice as a chicken coop bedding material.

My 15 different chicken coop bedding materials

No.Bedding MaterialRating
1Aubiose (hemp)5.0 / 5.0
2Chopped Straw4.8 / 5.0
3Aspen Shavings4.5 / 5.0
4Shredded Paper4.5 / 5.0
5Chopped Cardboard4.2 / 5.0
6Sand4.0 / 5.0
7Artificial Grass4.0 / 5.0
8Dirt3.5 / 5.0
9Coco Fiber3.5 / 5.0
10Chipped Tree Bark3.0 / 5.0
11Shredded Leaves2.8 / 5.0
12Grass Clippings2.5 / 5.0
13Hay2.0 / 5.0
14Cat Litter1.5 / 5.0

14. Cat Litter

Many years ago a fellow homesteader suggested I try using kitty litter in my chicken coops. He was able to source it in large sacks, and the price was very reasonable.

He swore by it, but I tried it a couple of times and I did not really get on well with it.

Kitty litter is absorbent and it does clump up around the chicken’s poop, making it easy to remove from the coop.

However I found it to be incredibly dusty the whole time, and I was constantly worried my hens were going to eat some of the kitty litter and give themselves digestive issues.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have nothing else to use, then go with kitty litter,l but I would never recommend it.

13. Hay

The words hay and straw are often used interchangeably. Some people will say hay when they are talking about straw and visa-versa.

However hay and straw are two separate products, and they have different levels of usefulness in the chicken coop.

Whilst I generally describe straw as one of the best bedding (and nesting) materials you can lay your hands on, hay tends to get very wet and matted quite quickly.

Once hay becomes wet it can also become a breeding ground for bacteria that cause respiratory diseases in both chickens and people.

If you are planning on using hay as a bedding material in your chicken coops you will need to change it at least twice a week, and probably ideally more often than that.

In my experience, hay also becomes very smelly once it gets wet. It gives off that damp smell many people associate with old houses.

12. Grass Clippings

I am always on the lookout for a free alternative for just about everything, and if I can get free chicken coop bedding, I am delighted.

I was at a poultry show a few years ago, and one of the exhibition guys was raving about using grass clippings as a bedding material. He suggested cutting the grass, then spreading the clippings out and leaving them to dry for a couple of days before using them as a bedding material for the chicken coops.

In my experience grass clippings worked fairly well, however, my hens would spend hours in the coop, scratching around in the grass clippings looking for bugs and seeds to eat.

I would find that by the end of each day the majority of the grass clippings had been kicked out of the coop and were spread around the run.

In principle using dried grass clippings as a chicken coop bedding material is a great idea, however, I found it just was not practical, especially as I do not have a great deal of grass that I actually cut on a regular basis, so my supply was limited.

If you have access to lots of grass clippings, and you can dry them out they may prove to be a viable option.

11. Shredded Leaves

Essentially shredded leaves have many of the same pros and cons as grass clippings. The leaves are normally free, and they will need drying before use. Also as with grass clippings, leaves are often in short supply.

I found that when I used dried, shredded leaves, they matted down very quickly when they got wet.

For me, the majority of leaves fell in the autumn, and of course, autumn is followed by winter, which always turns out to be incredibly wet where I live.

Another downside with leaves is they don’t actually compost. Due to the fact that leaves have a high lignin content and a lower nitrogen and calcium content than other organic materials, they have to be mulched rather than composted.

10. Chipped Tree Bark

Chipped tree bark or simply branches that have been passed through a wood chipper is another type of chicken coop bedding that is recommended fairly often.

I tried using chipped bark when we had a number of trees removed and chipped on our property, however, I didn’t find it was very absorbent, and as with the shredded leaves, it didn’t compost down very well.

If you have a tree surgeon in the family, or for some reason, you have access to a large quantity of free chipped wood, it might be worth considering as a chicken coop bedding, but I found there are better alternatives out there.

9. Coco Fiber

Coco fiber is currently one of the in bedding materials with lots of people talking about it.

If you are someone that gives regular consideration to the environment (which these days are just about all of us), then coco fiber is a great option as a chicken coop bedding.

Coco fiber is a by-product of the coconut trade, and by using it as a bedding material for our chicken coops we prevent many tons of it from going into landfill.

When I used coco fiber in one of my coops I really liked it. The major downside for me however was the cost. Compared to other bedding materials, coco fiber is relatively expensive, and when you have a dozen coops to clean and fill, coco fiber is not a viable option.

If you just have the one, fairly small coop, then I highly recommend trying coco fiber.

8. Dirt

Using regular dirt as a bedding material for your chicken coop seems like a no-brainer. Dirt is usually free, and there is usually a vast quantity of it wherever your homestead happens to be.

Dirt is also fairly absorbent, assuming the dirt itself is dry in the first place, and it is clearly easy to dispose of when you clean out the coop because you can just spread it around your land.

The problem I found when I used dirt was the chickens just scratched the whole lot up, kicking it out the door or into the nest boxes. Dirt is a viable free option, and it is easy to use and easy to replace.

7. Artificial Grass

I have used artificial grass in my chicken coops on numerous occasions, and to be honest, I really like using it.

The positives of using artificial grass are that it lasts almost forever, and rather than having to replace it each time you clean out the coop, you can just hose it down and place it back on the bottom of the coop.

However, artificial grass offers almost nothing in terms of being absorbent, and I did find I was starting to get bald patches, which almost certainly means my hens were pecking at it and possibly eating it.

I am not aware of the artificial grass causing any specific issues, but if used over a long period of time, the chicken’s health may begin to suffer if they are eating small pieces of plastic every day.

6. Sand

In my experience, using sand was just like using dirt, with the exception that sand tends to clump together and absorb the water a little better than dirt did.

I basically had the same issues with the hens scratching through the sand all day long, and to make matters worse they kept using it as a dust bath, meaning after just a couple of days I was left with a bare coop bottom as all the sand had been kicked out.

There are a lot of chicken keepers who swear by sand. They say it’s clean, inexpensive, and easy to replace. There also seems to be an almost equal number of chicken keepers who claim sand is dirty, expensive and a pain to remove and replace.

If you have access to a quantity of sand, either free or cheaply, then it is worth considering, but it isn’t a bedding material I would use again.

5. Chopped Cardboard

Chopped cardboard is one of the best bedding materials I have ever used. I found that chopped cardboard is super absorbent and does not mat down when wet like shredded paper are straw can.

Chopped cardboard is typically sold in large sacks and tends to be a byproduct of the cardboard and packaging industry, making it a sound environmental choice.

When I used chopped cardboard in my coops I found it was pleasant to work with, the chickens seemed to like it, and it composted down quickly when added to a heap.

The only issue I have using chopped cardboard (apart from the fact I can’t get it for free like I can with shredded paper) is the smell when it gets wet. It’s probably a personal choice, but I hate the smell of wet cardboard.

4. Shredded Paper

I think shredded paper is probably my personal number one choice of chicken coop bedding material, and it would be number one on the list if everyone had access to an almost endless supply for free as I do.

Shredded paper is fairly absorbent and super easy to compost, however, it does give off a lot of dust. Shredded paper also mats down quite a lot when it gets wet.

If you are planning to use shredded paper, try and source some that are cross-shredded rather than shredded into strips. The strips can get caught around the chicken’s legs, and I have seen hens that had sores on their legs due to long strands of paper being wrapped around them.

Glossy paper, like that from magazines, is not as absorbent as regular office paper.

I have read claims that the ink in the paper is potentially toxic to chickens, but I don’t think I have noticed any issues during the last 10 years I have been using shredded paper.

3. Aspen Shavings

Aspen shavings are essentially wood shavings that do not contain any aromatic oils, making them an ideal choice as a bedding material for a chicken coop.

In the past pine and cedar, shavings have been used, but these are generally no longer recommended due to the potentially toxic nature of the scent they give off.

Aspen shavings are usually available in large, compressed bales, making it an economical choice, especially if you have more than one coop to fill. Aspen shavings are also highly absorbent and they seem to control the odors coming from the chicken’s poop.

On the downside, you do need to ensure the aspen shavings you buy are ‘dust extracted’ otherwise they can give off a lot of dust.

In my experience, one further downside is that aspen shavings do take a long time to compost down. It is also said that a compost heap with a high quantity of wood shavings in it ends up with low nitrogen content.

2. Chopped Straw

Chopped straw has traditionally been the chicken coop bedding of choice for decades. Straw is generally fairly cheap to source, is available in large bales, and composts down very quickly.

Straw is also really absorbent, meaning it does not have to be changed as frequently as some of the other bedding materials on my list.

Chopped straw can also be used in the chicken’s nest boxes meaning you don’t have to order two different bedding products from your local farm supplies store.

Another benefit of using straw, especially if you also use it in the nestboxes, is its thermal properties. Straw helps to retain heat in the coop meaning your chickens are hopefully a little warmer during the long winter months.

1. Aubiose

Aubiose is fast becoming the most popular type of chicken bedding in the country. Aubiose is a byproduct of the hemp industry and has been used by those stabling horses for many years. Only now is it starting to work its way into other areas of the pet trade.

Not only is Aubiose soft, dust free, and absorbent, but it also composts down super quickly and it has a naturally occurring scent that is said to deter flies, lice, and mites.

When I use Aubiose I tend to buy it in 44lb compressed bales and these last a long time. I have many coops, and a single bale lasts me for months.

In Conclusion

There are many different choices of bedding material for your chicken coop.

Providing the bedding you choose is absorbent, non-toxic to chickens, and does not compact down excessively when wet, there is a good chance it will make a great coop bedding. If you can source that material cheaply, or even better for free, then you may be on to a winner.

If you found this article helpful, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Are my chickens bored’.

Aaron Homewood

Aaron Homewood is HomesteadSavvy.com‘s poultry editor. Arron has spent over 20 years keeping, breeding, and showing different poultry breeds, including chickens, ducks, geese, and quail.​
Poultry Editor

Article Sources:

  1. Aspen Shavings As Pet Bedding The Spruce Pets
  2. Aubiose Beeding Omlet.co.uk